Sunday May 2, 2021 Today’s New York Times ran a quite respectful account of Dana Beal’s career under the headline “The Long March to Legal Marijuana.”  The news hook was the “Joints for Jabs!” event that Beal staged in Union Square on 4/20. “He helped give away more than 1,000 joints,” according to Colin Moynihan of the Times. He described Beal as “a longtime leader of the Yippies” and “a familiar figure within drug policy circles (who) has spent years championing the use of ibogaine.” 

Dana Beal, from his Bleecker Street HQ, played an important but totally unsung role in the passage of California’s medical marijuana initiative, Proposition 215, back in 1996. It was Beal who suggested to Garry Trudeau (directly or through a mutual acquaintance, I’m not sure) that the shutdown of the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club in the midst of the AIDS epidemic was worthy of his attention. Trudeau phoned the club one day when Dennis Peron was out. Lynne “Geo” Barnes, filled him in some. (She’s my source —a former oncology nurse at UCSF.) Dennis’s lieutenant John Entwistle then returned Trudeau’s call and filled him in some more. There followed a week of Doonesbury strips that so angered Dan Lungren, the Republican Attorney General, that he held a press conference to denounce Doonesbury. The media —especially the cartoonists— made rich sport of Lungren fulminating against cartoon characters. Prop 215’s lead in the polls had been declining until Trudeau put the situation in perspective; then it widened.  A second week of Doonesburies in support of Dennis’s club ran in late October, outweighing the heap of warnings from politicians and law enforcement. The Yes vote to legalize marijuana for medical use was 55.9%. Thanks, in an unquantifiable measure, to Garry Trudeau and Dana Beal.

We’re coming up on the 25th anniversary of that transformative Election Day. I wonder how much of the real story will get told. 


Bonus track: They Always Said We Had to Change the Law